September 14, 2011
By Dan Olawski
“I wish I was a little kid like you,” I said as I held my three-year-old niece, Kristin. She looked at me and smiled and said, “Nahhhhh!” It was September 12, 2001, and the sadness and frustration I felt in my heart was being slightly alleviated by the sweet innocence of a young child who had no clue of the horrible events of the previous day, and who thought I was just being silly Uncle Dan.
It’s now ten years later and I still haven’t figured out how to explain the kind of evil and violence committed on 9/11. My niece and her sister are old enough now to talk about it, ask questions and try to understand that tragic day. But my autistic son, Mikey, is only six and has no concept of that sort of thing. His only realization that September 11, 2011, was an important, solemn day was watching mommy and daddy’s faces show their emotions as we watched the memorial services.
Many children with autism have a hard time interpreting other people’s emotions. Mikey is usually okay with it. And although we didn’t treat him any differently, I think he could tell that the 9/11 anniversary was an emotional day. In a way, I guess I’m glad he couldn’t ask any questions about 9/11…because I really don’t know how I could have explained it to him in any sensible kind of way.
My wife and I weren’t touched personally by the tragedy of 9/11. We didn’t lose anyone to that act of evil. My connection was purely emotional. I grew up close to Manhattan in New Jersey, and from the window of my parents’ apartment I could see the New York City skyline. When I visit them now, and look out that same window, the absence of the Twin Towers from that skyline is a telling reminder.
I realized that the majestic buildings that I saw every day as a child (and that I visited many times as an adult) were gone forever. I couldn’t show them to Mikey. It seemed like such a weird concept to me. They were there when I was a child; why couldn’t I show them to my own child?
I suddenly became overwhelmed with all the intertwining thoughts of 9/11 and my daily questions about autism. The common question that kept arising in my mind about both issues was: Why? I knew I couldn’t answer this question well enough to satisfy myself, so I decided to get some fresh air.
I turned to Mikey and said, “Do you want to go for a ride on your bike?” I got his customary, “Yesh!” as an answer, so I went and grabbed his helmet and got his bike ready. As we headed out around the block, my one hand helping him steer and the other guiding his bike so his training wheels wouldn’t constantly run over my toes, I suddenly felt as far away from the violence of that horrible September day and as close to innocence as I could get.
As we made our way back down the block to go home, Mikey looked at me with a smile that said, “Thanks, Daddy! This is fun!” I then realized the answer to both of the troubling issues I had been struggling with earlier in the day. The answer was, and always will be, LOVE. Not necessarily a religious type of love or a hippie type of love…just a love that we should strive for as human beings -- that although we are different in some ways, we aren’t different enough that we can’t care about each other.
It’s really all about awareness. We all need to take a second to pause and think about what makes us all different: Maybe that person is from another country, perhaps they are a different faith than us or maybe they have autism. Awareness and understanding are the first steps to reaching the love that this world needs. Won’t you take that first step with me and try to learn about someone different than yourself? One way, perhaps, would be to learn about autism by checking out the great resources on the Autism Society's web site.
Dan Olawski blogs about fatherhood and his son Mikey for the Autism Society. He lives with his family on Long Island, N.Y., where he works as a writer/editor. His time is spent following Mikey with a vacuum cleaner, watching his beloved New York Yankees and continuing his pursuit of the perfect chocolate chip cookie. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Topics:Living with Autism
Please login or register before you comment. Click here to login or register.